Chinese engineer gets eight-year sentence in US for spying

A Chinese national has been sentenced to eight years in prison for spying on the US.

Ji Chaoqun reportedly embedded himself in the US after enrolling as a student 10 years ago and has since been passing high-value information back to Beijing.

The US Justice Department said Ji came to the United States in 2013 to study electrical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and later enlisted in the US Army Reserves.

In 2016, he enlisted in a program that allowed foreign nationals to be recruited if their skills were considered “vital to the national interest”.

Ji was arrested in September 2018 over claims he had supplied Chinese intelligence with biographical information about eight people, all naturalised American citizens originally from China or Taiwan, and some of whom were US defence contractors.

However, Ji falsely stated that he had not had any contact with a foreign government within the past seven years in his application to join the program, and failed to disclose his relationship and contacts with Chinese intelligence officers in a subsequent interview with a US Army officer.

The Justice Department stated that Ji‘s mission was to provide the Chinese intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), with biographical information on individuals for potential recruitment as Chinese spies, including Chinese nationals who were working as engineers and scientists in the US, some of whom worked for American defence contractors.

According to US officials, Ji’s ultimate goal was to obtain access to advanced aerospace and satellite technologies being developed by US companies.

“Evidence at trial further revealed that in 2018 Ji had several meetings with an undercover law enforcement agent who was posing as a representative of the Ministry of State Security,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

“During these meetings, Ji explained that with his military identification, he could visit and take photos of ‘Roosevelt-class’ aircraft carriers. Ji also explained that once he obtained his U.S. citizenship and security clearance through the MAVNI program, he would seek a job at the CIA, FBI or NASA.”

The charge handed down is often used by US prosecutors in espionage-related cases where the accused is not clearly a foreign intelligence agent.

According to the Justice Department, Ji acted at the direction of Xu Yanjun, a deputy division director in the Jiangsu unit.

Ji’s case was apparently linked to Chinese efforts over several years to steal trade secrets from Ohio-based GE Aviation – one of the world’s leading aircraft engine manufacturers – and other aviation companies, including US military suppliers.

Xu was a key figure in that effort. Arrested in Belgium in 2018, he was extradited to the United States to stand trial.

He was convicted in November 2021 of economic espionage and attempted theft of trade secrets.

In November 2022 Xu was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In 2022, a top ranking nuclear submarine chief said the threat of espionage is high in Australia.

Foreign spies are likely to try to infiltrate the program in an attempt to steal US and UK nuclear technology, according to Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead.

Since the program’s inception a number of nations including China have shown interest, prompting calls for “gold standard” security for Australia’s high-value secrets.

Originally published as Chinese engineer gets eight-year sentence in US for spying

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